Fortunately, humor is hard to translate

Responses to our Thanksgiving Dinner invitation are trickling in. So far, it’s just a large dinner. It’s not yet at the “Yikes!” level.

The biggest one we did had 34 sitting down to eat at some point or another, not counting deliveries to those who didn’t want to (or couldn’t) leave their apartments. That was pretty unusual. With three large tables, we still had to seat some elsewhere. But, even in a “normal” year, our Thanksgiving operation is remarkable.

The floor space in our kitchen not covered by the refrigerator, stove, or sink-and-counter assembly is 32 x 40 inches. It’s possible for two people to stand in the kitchen at once, but they have to be pretty friendly. Exceptional choreography is needed for cooking and serving.

Our oven is 15 inches wide between rack guides. Somehow, it has accommodated a 35-lb. turkey — maybe more than 50 lbs. by the time it went in. I stuff under the skin to keep the meat moist, and I can get an awful lot of stuffing into almost any size bird.

How do we do it? We get by with a little help from our friends.

I’ve seen both larger and smaller kitchens in New York. Ours is gigantic compared to the one in my wife’s previous apartment, and she managed to throw dinner parties there, too. That was in the Beacon, where P. T. Barnum used to stay — reportedly with elephants.

We call our event the Bancroft Thanksgiving Dinner, because that’s the name of our building. Many New York apartment buildings have names. Perhaps the most famous is one across the street from us, the Dakota, where John Lennon was killed. When it was built in the 19th century, it was so far from what was then considered New York that many thought it might as well have been in the Dakota Territory.

On our side of the block are (besides our Bancroft) the Ruxton, the Lincoln Terrace, the Untershatz, the Franconia, the Oliver Cromwell, and the Majestic. Long before the World Trade Center was designed, the Majestic already had twin towers. So did (heading up Central Park West) the San Remo, the Beresford (actually three towers, but looking like two from either building face), and the Eldorado.

Now that the leaves are coming off the trees, I can clearly see our many twin-towered buildings as I ride around Central Park. Today, I also saw a couple burying themselves in fallen leaves and someone practicing hockey on the Lasker ice rink.

I rode late today because I slept in. I slept in because I stayed up all night to watch the Leonid meteor shower. We watched it in a large field on Long Island, but many New Yorkers went up to their roofs and watched it there. I’ve gone up to our roof at night many times to watch celestial events. There’s often a crowd.

There’s a bunch of light pollution in New York, but the air is pretty clear. On Wednesday, the Sierra Club released the results of a study showing that New York produces less smog per person than any other major U.S. city.

One of our smoke-free industries is culture, representing $13 billion a year. It hasn’t been doing well since the attacks. It’s being hit with a quadruple whammy.

Since September 11, the city has lost 79,000 jobs (and New Jersey has gained 15,000). With the economy down, New Yorkers are spending less at cultural institutions. The tourist trade, a significant revenue source for the industry, is also way down. With so much contributed to September 11-related causes (and with the poor economy) donations are down, too. And the mayor says the city’s budget (including cultural items) is being cut.

Much of our family income comes from that New York culture industry. We sometimes refer to nearby Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts as the plant. We’ve experienced a number of job cancellations so far, but nothing we can’t deal with. A lot of people have had to deal with worse.

Consider Gander, Newfoundland. In the early days of transatlantic air travel, it was a common refueling spot. Then, when airports were shut down in the U.S. on September 11, it suddenly became an unscheduled destination for almost 7,000 stranded passengers and crews.

That would have been problematic even in New York. Gander has 10,000 residents and 550 hotel rooms. But the townspeople managed to find everyone a place to sleep and food to eat — even getting kosher food for those who wanted it and dealing with people who spoke no English. Now some of those passengers are trying to repay Gander with donations.

The population of Battery Park City, adjacent to the World Trade Center site, was comparable to that of Gander. All of them were forced from their homes on September 11. The Red Cross has been covering the cost of their accommodations — 1,560 of them for a month or more (150 of them still). That’s a lot of hotel bills, even at a big discount.

The Internal Revenue Service has now ruled that charities paying victims of September 11 “in good faith using objective standards” may keep their non-profit status. I think that’s meant to be good news.

Another item of probably very good news hasn’t been getting much play in the media, but it leapt out at me. At first glance, however, it might not seem such good news. According to the Times of London on Thursday, “For whatever other dark business may have occurred in the Al Qaeda safe houses in Kabul, a lot of time and effort had been devoted within them to researching the creation of an atomic device.”

What euphemisms! Civilians killed are called “collateral damage.” Nuclear weapons are called “devices.” I prefer to call them what they are. If you find that upsetting, I’m encouraged. We all should.

The BBC broadcast the document that led the London Times to its nuclear-weapons-research conclusion. And Jason Scott, a reporter for the online newsletter, then did a web search to see where al-Qaeda might have come up with its nuclear-weapons information, based on phrases visible in the document in the broadcast.

Scott’s conclusion is that al-Qaeda was studying a paper published in 1979 in the highly prestigious Journal of Irreproducible Results (JIR). I’m a former subscriber, and I think I recall the paper in question.

I always appreciated JIR’s “Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown” compilation. It included a lengthy treatise on the postal-system input buffer device, perhaps better known as a mailbox.

JIR was a real publication to which real scientists and engineers contributed. It’s just that the contributions always involved firmly placing the lingual muscle firmly against the interior lateral wall of the oral cavity. After explaining how to trigger a nuclear bomb, the JIR paper continued, “In next month’s column, we will learn how to clone your neighbor’s wife in six easy steps.”


TTFN, Mark